A week later, Barrett sat up. That confirmed he had died and was in some kind of very strange afterlife, because there was no way he should have been able to recover enough to move. Clara- the girl who found him at the bottom of the mountain- insisted he was alive, but he found it hard to believe. Jack- her father- confirmed he was alive… but of course he would. They were working together to do… whatever this was.
If this were some form of heaven, Barrett was severely disappointed. If it were hell… he was also disappointed but not particularly upset. Perhaps it was some form of purgatory… but either way it wasn’t so bad.
“Oh! You sat up big brother! Wow!” Clara was somewhere less than ten years old by Barrett’s reckoning. She had cute short hair and always wore a dress. She was the one who did the most taking care of him. Her father didn’t complain, but wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the task either.
“Oh… so he did.” Jack walked in behind her, “You’re a tough young man. I didn’t think you could possibly be alive when we found you. Now here you are, sitting up on your own. Mostly.”
Barrett grinned as sweat poured down his forehead. It was hard to keep himself steady… but it was a good kind of hard- even if it was painful.
The next week, Barrett got out of bed. He was unsteady on his feet, but if he gritted his teeth he could walk a few steps before collapsing onto the bed. The week after that… Barrett went outside. Neither Jack nor Clara were around. Barrett looked around for something to do. Sitting in bed was boring. Jack and Clara only had a tiny little house and no books, so he’d had nothing to entertain himself.
Finally his eyes settled on a wood pile. There were logs next to it, and a pile of chopped logs nearby. There was also an axe sitting in a chopping stump. Barrett reached over to pick up the axe. It felt heavy, which was almost laughable as he’d been swinging around large axes built for war previously. Now, a regular wood chopping axe felt heavy. He balanced the axe on its head as he placed a piece of wood, then chopped. At first his actions were awkward. It was his left hand and he was weaker… but he eventually got the hang of it. He only cut himself once trying to pull the axe out of a log carelessly.
By evening he had created a new miniature pile of firewood next to the other one. That was when Clara and Jack returned, “Whoa, big brother Barrett… did you cut all that?”
Barrett nodded, “I wanted to help… as a thanks for taking care of me.”
Jack’s eyes widened, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it but… are you sure you can handle it?”
Barrett nodded again, “It’s fine. It’s good to expend a little bit of effort.”
The next morning, Barrett looked at his hand. The cut was healed. That was strange. He had thought his rapid healing was gone. After all, he still had wounds that were healing- slowly- but it had been the equivalent of almost two years of recovery. Even so, his new cut healed rapidly. Maybe the fire had slowed things down somehow, but Barrett hadn’t heard of such an effect from Master Hykel.
Barrett continued to help out around the house. Jack and Clara were busy enough taking care of the two of them, and they only had to work harder to get food for him. Clara’s mother wasn’t around anymore, so the regular pattern of chores had been disrupted. Mostly, Barrett chopped wood- until they had much more than they would need for the next year. Then he took care of whatever else he could do with one arm.
One day, Jack came hobbling back toward the cabin, clutching at his chest. Blood was dripping through his fingers. “Barrett…” He coughed, “There’s a secret money pouch… under third floorboard from the window. Take that and run.”
“What happened? What about you?”
“Bandits… they took Clara. I couldn’t stop them. They’ll probably come here…” Jack collapsed to his knees, and Barrett hurriedly ran to grab a roll of bandages. He started wrapping Jack’s wound. He had lots of experience with bandages- and now he had experience wrapping them with one arm.
“Where are the bandits?”
“They live in the hills to the east. You can just take the west road to avoid them. Just leave me and run…”
Barrett finished bandaging Jack, “What tier are they?”
“Tier? I don’t… What do you mean?”
“What tier of warriors?”
“They… their leader is a great warrior, as strong as a dozen men. Quick, get going!”
Barrett picked up Jack in his good arm and carried him to the bed. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
Jack called out from the house, “What are you doing? Run!” Jack weakly pointed. Barrett turned in that direction and started walking. Jack sighed in relief. “Wait, where are you going?”
Barrett carried the axe with him back in front of the door, “I want to pay you back for saving me. Chopping wood is… well, I’d like to think my life is worth more than a little manual labor. So I’m going to go kill the bandits and rescue your daughter.”
Barrett didn’t listen to Jack’s cries behind him. Instead, he started walking down the road to the east.
Barrett realized he didn’t have very good directions, but he managed to find a spot of blood. There had been several on the way- from Jack’s chest wound. Unfortunately, he lost the trail. Then, he saw a pair of men walking toward him. “Hey. You bandits?”
One of them laughed, “Damn right we are, one-arm. Why don’t you hand over that shiny axe and any money you have on you?”
“Okay, don’t hurt me!” Barrett held up his hand before suddenly stepping forward to swing his axe down. It crunched into the skull of one of the men. He pushed on the man’s corpse with his foot to retrieve the wood chopping axe. “Actually… You- ugly face- take me to the rest of you, yeah?”